The U.S. Mint would like to believe their current activities in the 21st Century are a renaissance of coin design, but coin collectors couldn’t disagree more.
Among coin collectors, the true renaissance of U.S. coinage occurred from 1907 to 1921. From the common cent to twenty dollar gold pieces, every coin underwent sweeping design changes that produced some of the most artistic and beautiful coins ever released by the mint. Ask any collector what they believe are the most beautiful coins ever minted and you’ll get a vote for at least one denomination from this period.
One such example is the Walking Liberty fifty cent coin or half dollar. Designed by Adolph A. Weinman, with a composition of 90% silver and 10% copper, the Walking Liberty Half was produced from 1916 through 1947.
On the obverse, Lady Liberty is featured striding toward the dawn of a new day, clad in the Stars and Stripes and carrying branches of laurel and oak symbolizing civil and military glory. Additionally, the obverse design shows the word LIBERTY and the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. So strong was Weinman’s design it was later re-used in 1986 as the obverse design for American Silver Eagle (ASE) bullion coins and is still used today.
The reverse design features a majestic eagle perched on a mountain crag, wings unfolded in a pose suggesting power, with a sapling of mountain pine-symbolic of America-springing from a rift in the rock. Additionally, the reverse design shows the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA HALF DOLLAR near the rim, the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM to the left of the eagle, a mint mark located just to the right of HALF DOLLAR near the rim (Philadelphia issues carried no mint mark) and the designer’s initials AAW appears just below the eagles wing near the rim.
From 1916 to 1917, the Denver and San Francisco mint marks were originally on the obverse (Variety 1). In the latter part of 1917 the mint marks were moved to the reverse where they stayed for the remainder of the series (Variety 2).
General Market Notes
Luckily for type set collectors, there is only one coin type and affordable examples from the 1940’s are readily available in all grades. But there are two minor design varieties.